No matter how fast a kayak is designed to run through the water, it’s not going anywhere without a paddle in the rider’s hands. Paddles are the tools we use to pull the boat forward, our true connection to the water. Initial gear obsessions may focus on the boats, but it doesn’t take long for passionate paddlers to focus more and more on their paddle choice.
Like kayaks, paddles can be a very personal choice regarding fit and comfort. What works well for one paddler may not suit his or her paddling partner. Paddle weight, flex, length, shaft diameter and shape, paddler build, water conditions, blade length, width, twist, cant – these are just some of the parameters that can affect the stroke. Finding the right match can greatly impact a paddler’s speed, stability and overall performance.
Even as some paddle features, such as lever locks for adjustability, become more uniform across the manufacturer lines, the nuances of design are numerous and real. It is worthwhile to try as many out as you can, and gauge how the various options suit your particular body type, paddling style and typical water conditions. Paddles designed to excel on a 1000m flatwater course may not be your best choice for a 20k downwind run. Each manufacturer brings their own background and focus to their product.
Epic Kayaks has core philosophies that have driven the designs of their boats, based on simplicity, comfort and features that enhance real-world performance. Greg Barton has incorporated these same philosophies into his paddle designs. As Greg discusses below, the Epic wing paddle is meant to be ergonomic, stable and efficient – a paddle aimed at surfski racers and general fitness paddlers, with increasing popularity among touring kayakers.
Epic Wing Paddles: Q&A with Greg Barton
Shark River: When did you first introduce the Epic wing paddle? How many models do you currently have? Do you plan on adding more?
Greg: Epic’s first wing paddle was introduced in 1998. We currently have 4 wing models in the lineup – Small Mid, Mid, Mid Large and Large Wing. We’ll likely add some more paddles in the years to come.
Shark River: What was the guiding principle you kept in mind when designing the Epic paddle line?
Greg: Our goal is to make a paddle with a smooth catch & exit, while providing stable tracking and high efficiency in the mid portion of the stroke. I used digitized 3D video analysis (shot from 2 different angles) to determine the path of the paddle blade in the water. Knowing the direction of water flow helped immensely in optimizing the shape of Epic paddles.
Shark River: Where do your paddles lie in terms of the “nuances” in paddle design, i.e.: blade shape, degree of twist, shaft flex, etc.?
Greg: Epic blades have a teardrop shape with a relatively high amount of twist. We have 3 different shafts. Our Hybrid shaft has the most flex and is the most durable. Our Medium flex shaft is the lightest and also has a decent amount of flex. Our Stiff shaft has minimal flex.
Shark River: How do these combine to affect the paddle’s performance for surfski racing?
Greg: A teardrop shape blade gives a stronger catch at the start of the stroke. A stiff shaft is more efficient and typically used for sprint races. A more flexible shaft is less stressful for longer distances. Likewise the blade size can be tailored to your strength and distance paddled. For most people, a smaller blade such as the Epic Small Mid or Mid Wing will allow more consistent power over a longer period of time.
Shark River: What are some the features that you added to Epic paddles to enhance their ergonomics and user-friendliness?
Greg: The twist profile on Epic wing blades is non linear which gives a more stable catch while providing greater efficiency once fully buried. Our shafts are oval to give a more natural grip. The Epic Length Lock system allows the paddle to be customized to the exact length and feather angle that is most beneficial to individual paddlers. Epic was the first company to popularize a reliable system that allowed both length & feather adjustments.
Shark River: What length range is currently available for the Epic wing paddle line? What are your thoughts on the trend towards shorter length paddles for surfski paddling/racing?
Greg: Epic paddles have 10 cm of adjustment. Our most popular ranges are 205-215 cm and 210-220 cm, although we offer them as short as 190-200 cm (for kids) and up to 220-230 cm (but we don’t recommend paddles that long). A shorter paddle helps maintain speed over longer distances. And newer boats allow a closer, more ergonomic catch which works well with a slightly shorter paddle.
Shark River: What insight can you give about your paddle construction, such as material options, foam cores, etc?
Greg: Epic wing paddles use a lightweight foam core which adds stiffness to the blade with minimal weight, especially when combined with carbon fiber. Then we reinforce areas of high stress with unidirectional carbon and a solid composite edge provides greater durability. The result is a lightweight blade with exceptionally low swing weight.
Shark River: Which combo would you rather have: a fast boat design with a poor paddle, or a slower boat design with a high performance paddle?
Greg: Your boat and paddle should work together to provide the most efficiency and enjoyment. If I could choose only one, I’d probably take an efficient boat – because some of the slow rec designs simply cannot be paddled at higher speeds. However, you get more bang for your buck with a good paddle. You can get the best paddle for $450, while the best boat will cost you thousands. If I was on a budget, I’d opt for a mid priced efficient boat with a top end paddle.